The first matchday has come and gone, with the Reds thumping West Ham United 4-0 in a display of just how powerful this team could be. While Jurgen Klopp’s side have always been well known for their high power attacking football, the Liverpool defense has slowly become a force to be reckoned with in its own right. The face of this defensive turnaround is the big man, Virgil van Dijk, who was acquired in the winter transfer window of last season for an astounding fee (that was worth every penny). Before Liverpool acquired the Dutchman last season, they surrendered 28 goals in 23 league matches. After inserting van Dijk into the lineup, they allowed just 7 goals in the 14 league matches that he took part in. The difference has been magnificent to watch, and the biggest beneficiary of this transfer seems to be the Reds often disparaged Dejan Lovren. The Croatian was yanked out of the game before half time against Spurs last October after one of the most calamitous 30 minutes of defending I had ever seen. That match feels like a lifetime ago for Lovren, who had a great year after that, helping send Liverpool to the UCL final and also guiding Croatia to a first ever World Cup final. The issue now is that Lovren is out injured, with a knock that he had apparently sustained before the World Cup, but played through for his country. This has left the chance for young English International, Joe Gomez, to get a real run of games in the first team.
In the first game of the season, Gomez got his chance to play alongside van Dijk in his preferred position of center back , helping the Reds keep a clean sheet in their opener. Watching the match, Gomez exhibited a great level of calmness for a player who really has not played very much in the first team. Gomez had 3 tackles in the match, second most on the team for the game, as well as 4 clearances which led the team. His passing was good, completing 91.5% of the passes that he attempted. The young Englishman did not have a spotless game, having a few moments where he allowed Hammers striker Marko Arnautovic a look at the goal. Even when he allowed Arnautovic through, he did recover well to put the Austrian off enough that he never made the Reds pay. The biggest part of Gomez’s game that impressed me was how willing he was to carry the ball when West Ham sat back. On multiple occasions he brought the ball up to or past the halfway line and played a good pass to help the offense get started in the opposing half.
Gomez’s impressive start to the season has many Reds, including myself, wondering what will happen when Lovren does regain full fitness. After such an impressive last 8 months for Lovren, as well as his great relationship with many of the players, it is hard to picture him not regaining his spot once he is 100%, but as we all know Klopp can be a bit of a wild card when it comes to team selection. If the time comes, and we still are looking as staunch at the back as we did in the first game, I could very well see Lovren having to prove himself all over again to regain his spot. While these are completed hypotheticals, it is certainly a good problem to have for the Reds boss, especially considering that we are in 4 different competitions this year, rotation will be a key to our success.